Most helpful positive review
60 of 64 people found the following review helpful
on 20 October 2008
This is a fascinating book for anyone who loves London, and an eye-opener if you have ever wondered whether cities have any folklore apart from ghost stories. Steve Roud divides London into seven regions, and finds an amazing variety of tales and customs (past and present) to discuss in each one, and links them to the buildings and streets. In the section on the City of Westminster, for instance, you get gruesome tales of hangings at Tyburn, conspiracy theories surrounding the fate of Cromwell's corpse, the custom of wife-selling, May Day celebrations by chimney sweeps, plague pits, the fair at Mayfair, gypsy fortune tellers, a school Pancake Day custom, the famous ghosts of 50 Berkeley Square and Newgate Gaol, and much more.
Roud doesn't just tell the story or describe the custom. He looks into its history and assesses the evidence, quoting directly from old or influential accounts. He has a rational, often amusing, way of dealing with nonsense and wild theories. We may have to wave goodbye to some favourite notions (about Sweeney Todd, or the Tower ravens, or Ring a Ring o' Roses), but the reasons behind them are always interesting. London's real traditions are even more entertaining than the fictions.